Monday, March 30, 2009

My Essay on the Queer Gender Dynamics of the Rosary Now Published in The Australian eJournal of Theology

My essay on the queer gender dynamics of the Rosary is now out in the first issue for 2009 of the Australian eJournal of Theology. The title is a bit of a mouthful - "The Gendered Dynamics of Kenosis and Theosis in the Traditional Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Surprising
Theological Possibilities for Inclusive Theologies of Gender and Sexuality." Below is the abstract:

In 2002, Pope John Paul 2 added five new Luminous mysteries to the traditional Rosary of the Virgin Mary, a popular Catholic devotional and meditation exercise, grounded largely in the New Testament narratives. The Pope’s intent was to give a stronger Christological focus to the rosary. The essay explores the spiritual dynamics of the traditional rosary from an emic but marginalised (gay) perspective drawing on gender and queer/sexuality theory. It argues that the Mariological focus is grounded in ancient Christian mystical theologies of kenosis and divinization which would be obscured by a new Christological focus. This Mariocentrism of the rosary is itself Christocentric but in a subtle and finely balanced way that can be thrown out of kilter by attempts to impose an explicit Christological focus. Together kenosis and divinization give the Mariocentric Rosary a very queer gender dynamic that might, surprisingly, provide internal resources for a gender inclusive and queer affirming transformation of Catholicism.

If that whets your appetite, the essay is fully available in pdf format here as are all the essays published there. It's rather long I'm afraid but even though I wrote it back in 2006, which seems such a long time ago, I still really like it and think it represents a way doing a very radical Catholic theology from within the heart of the tradition. Also check out the rest of this issue of the eJournal. Below is the table of contents and you can click directly through to each item:

Editorial Editor's Notes Feature Articles..

  • Christopher Dawson's Concept of History: World Religions bring a New Order of Civilizations (Chapter Three) (PDF File, 75.4 kb)
    - John Thornhill SM
  • Mary: Icon of Trinitarian Love (PDF File, 394.1 kb)
    - Anthony J Kelly CSsR]
  • On Faith: Relation to an Infinite Passing (PDF File, 141.0 kb)
    - Robyn Horner
  • Deus Economicus (PDF File, 127.3 kb)
    - Paul Oslington
  • Teaching Theology Online (PDF File, 86.7 kb)
    - Matthew C. Ogilvie
  • The Natural Mysticism of Indigenous Australian Traditions (PDF File, 61.0 kb)
    - Joan Hendriks & Gerard Hall SM
  • Levinas and Responsibility for the Other: A practical theological analysis of the cases of Nancy Crick and Terri Schiavo (PDF File, 83.7 kb)
    - Patrick McArdle
  • Adjustment and Complications of Catholic and Inter-faith Intermarriages (PDF File, 87.0 kb)
    - Abe W. Ata
  • The Transubstantiated Word (PDF File, 60.9 kb)
    - Joel Hodge
  • Practical & Political Theologies...

  • Conversation on Paul Oslington's Deus Economicus (PDF File, 51.8 kb)
    - Paul Oslington, Anthony Kelly CSsR & Neil Ormerod
  • The Significance of the Eucharist in Orthodoxy (PDF File, 61.2 kb)
    - Angelo Nicolaides
  • Buber Invites Barth to a Dance - in Jerusalem… (PDF File, 52.4 kb)
    - Matthew Del Nevo
  • Post HumanaeVitae: Germaine Greer and Pope Paul VI in conversation (PDF File, 71.4 kb)
    - Sophie McGrath RSM
  • How to Create a Hollywood Christ-Figure: Sacred Storytelling as Applied Theology (PDF File, 61.1 kb)
    - Anton Karl Kozlovic
  • Peace-building through Ecumenical and Interfaith Dialogue (PDF File, 70.9 kb)
    - Felicita Carr
  • Persistent Postmodern Numino-Political Analysis (PDF File, 60.0 kb)
    - Matthew John-Paul Tan
  • Australian Universities in Transition: Moral, Pragmatic or Religious Drivers? (PDF File, 83.2 kb)
    - Paul Tyson
  • The Gendered Dynamics of Kenosis and Theosis in the Traditional Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Surprising Theological Possibilities for Inclusive Theologies of Gender and Sexuality (PDF File, 108.5 kb)
    - Michael Carden
  • Theological Resistance to the Conquest of Latin America (PDF File, 74.8 kb)
    - Michael Elphick
  • Book Reviews...

  • Reflecting Theologically on Aids: A Global Challenge (PDF File, 16.2 kb)
    - Robin Gill
  • New Paradigm in Ministry Education (PDF File, 21.6 kb)
    - Dr. John H. Morgan
  • A selection of recent titles in theology chosen by Hugh McGinlay of Rainbow Books/Mosaic resources (PDF File, 17.8 kb)
    - Hugh McGinlay
  • Sunday, March 29, 2009

    Autumn in Brisbane

    It's autumn here in the southern hemisphere and with all the election drama a week ago the autumnal equinox slipped by unnoticed. Brisbane is a sub-tropical city so our autumn is a little different to the classic Fall seen in the northern hemisphere. Australia as a whole doesn't have a Fall as such, I believe. Melbourne, however, and some other cities in the southern part of the continent where there has been a lot of planting of European trees do experience a Fall, at least in the older inner areas. But here in Brisbane autumn is more subtle.

    For a start, this year everything is so green because we've had good summer rain and traditionally summer is our wet season. So we have green lush foliage. The weather is warm too. Over the last few years with the drought, March and even April could be almost indistinguishable from summer. But this year over the last month, there has been an ebbing of the humid heat of February. I'm still getting around in shorts and a singlet but I'm comfortable, unlike the hot humid weather of earlier. By day if you're in the sun it can still be intense and the temperatures are still up in the high 20s, even 30-31 at times. However the magic of this time of year is that beneath the warmth, especially in morning and evening, there is an oddly re-assuring touch of chill. Not icy, but a sharpness that just tingles the skin.

    But what I love most is the light, in the evening especially. Just as there is a chill tinge to the warm air so the light has a quality or depth of shadow that you wont find in summer's glare. By mid-afternoon this depth of shadow gives an almost sweet melancholy tinge to everything around. Ever since I was a child I've felt as if the whole earth is in the grip of a deep yearning of memory and I feel in myself the awakening of memory. Not specific memories on my own part but instead a sharing of the cosmos' yearning for things past. By sunset this yearning can be strong like the glissando of an Eric Satie piano piece. It feels like it's pressing at you through your skin and from deep down inside simultaneously. And we've had some stunning sunsets, the clouded western horizons suffused with a panoply of reds ablaze and straining against the deepening blue of onrushing night.

    It always seemed appropriate to me as a child that this was the season of Lent. It's a natural time for reflection in a way that Spring can't be. Spring is newborn, naive, bursting with sap and bud and teeenage hormones. Spring is funfilled joy but Autumn's joy is more subdued, more appreciative.

    Today is the 5th Sunday in Lent. When I was a child it was known as Passion Sunday, starting the 2 weeks of Passiontide that included Holy Week and culminated in Easter. This for me was a most magic time of year, moreso than any other and once more fitted Autumn's dynamics than any other season. Part of the magic of Passion Sunday was going to church and seeing all the statues and crosses covered over with purple cloth - 'Jesus was in hiding now' I was told - and those coverings would stay until midnight in the Easter Vigil liturgy when they would be removed to the chanting of the Gloria to herald the start of Easter and signify the Resurrection. As a child I loved the drama and symbolism of all these rituals which only ever occured at this time of year.

    In 1969, Pope Paul VI removed the label of Passion Sunday for this day, transferring it to Palm Sunday. I'm not quite clear why it was done but it appears from this account here that perhaps it was a misguided attempt to return to some perceived simpler and 'more authentic' usage of the earlier church. An attempt at peeling away medieval 'accretions' and 'elaborations' for percieved simplicity. Personally I hope one day there comes a re-evaluation of mediaeval Christendom and its ways and subsequent reclaiming of much that was good. This was, after all, the time of Hildegard, Mechtild, Francis, Clare, Marguerite Porete and many others so there was something good in the period.

    So this morning I went to Mass at the Liberal Catholic church up in Wickham Tce. They still observe today as Passion Sunday and, while there are no statues in their church, the crosses were draped in purple gauze and will remain that way until Easter day. It's what I like about the LCC, this strange mixture of an older time with the present, so perfectly in keeping with Lent and Autumn.

    St Mary's 4: The drama comes to a conclusion

    I saw it on the ABC news on Friday night and yesterday's Courier Mail covers the story here. It appears an agreement has been reached by the St Mary's Council and the Brisbane Archdiocese. Peter Kennedy will give his last service at St Mary's on 19 April. Dean Ken Howell will assume responsibility from 20 April and will be given the keys at 8am on that date. The council itself will resign as at midnight of the 19th. A pdf of the agrement can be obtained here. (Since I first posted this piece the agreement has been taken down from the St Mary's website)

    The agreement acknowledges that Peter Kennnedy has been dismissed and that the property belongs to the Archdiocese. I note that there is no mention of the other priest, Terry Fitzpatrick, in the agreement. My understanding is that he is not a priest of the Brisbane Archdiocese but still theoretically attached to Toowoomba. Presumably he's been on long term unpaid leave. I presume any role he has at St Mary's will come to an end. I don't imagine Ken Howell will want to continue Terry's 'hippy masses' as one person I know describes them. In my opinion they were neither hippy nor a mass but the person, who likes Peter Kennedy and wanted him to stay on, did not have the same feeling for Terry. I don't know if his Buddhist meditation group met at St Mary's. If it did it probably wont any longer as under the agreement "St Mary's shall be restored solely for Catholic worship and for such other complementary purposes that Dean Howell approves."

    Under the agreement the Dean will have full access "to all the books and records of the parish" - I have heard all manner of allegations re the handling of the finances at St Mary's by Peter Kennedy. If half of what I've heard is true then it seems the parish was run as his own sinecure, more reminiscent of US tele-evangelists than anything else. And presumably Kennedy's bottled water business, Heavenly Drop, will no longer operate from the church.

    Oddly, Micah Project is able to continue to operate from the church house until the end of June. Micah director, Karyn Walsh, was quoted in the ABC coverage on Friday night as saying that Micah would move from St Mary's at the end of June. I don't understand why that has to happen, unless, of course, the Archdiocese plans to appoint a new adminustrator who would once more live in the church house. It's important to note that St Mary's social justice reputation was based on two things: Micah Projects being based there and the Ozcare homeless men's hostel located next door to the church. Micah operates on a $5million budget and if every parish had something similar they would all be very much social justice parishes. The Ozcare hostel is very much a separate operation and while Ozcare came out of St Vincent de Paul it now seems to be a curious business welfare hybrid. (I was disturbed to hear reports that it is planning to relocate the hostel to Logan City and put its South Brisbane site to more commercial uses. If that's true it's absolutely outrageous and should be prevented if at all possible.)

    As someone who used to attend St Mary's I find is very sad and all so unnecessary. What happened there was a case of priests being carried away with their own self-importance. Despite all the rhetoric of a new paradigm of a congregationally driven church, that was not true. It was no more than the reinscription of the old priestcraft model but under the sugar coated veneer of social justice concern and a progressive paradigm. But on what I've heard Peter Kennedy was not much different to George Pell in terms of controlling the show. And both Kennedy and Pell show the paucity of theological training for priests in the Australian Roman Catholic church. Terry Fitzpatrick's efforts are even more woeful. When I first went to St Mary's, Peter was doing a good job of transmitting some contemporary theological and biblical debates to the congregation there, surely part and parcel of what a priest should do. But as I would discover through my own studies, Peter got stuck and not only did not continue to follow the developments of these discourses, but himself eventually got sidetracked into such extraneous ideas as Eckhardt Tolle and other new age bourgeois thought. All so Benny Hinn, really. And in a sense St Mary's was turning into a kind of Catholic version of the wierd New Mystics and Latter rain phenomena that are so blighting US Pentecostal/Charismatic Christianity today.

    UPDATE On the ABC News tonight came the news that Peter Kennedy announcded today that he will continue his congregation outside of St Mary's church. He has accepted the offer of the Trades and Labor Council to use meetng space there for Sunday services. Kennedy calls it a community in exile. Effectively he's taking the Independent Catholic route. There really is no other option, although in his case I'd say it's more an Independent option as really there didn't seem to be much that was Catholic left in what Peter or Terry were doing. But going Independent has some implications. Peter has no other option but to seriously plan for the community's long-term survival which also includes a time beyond Peter. This fact also means that the community must look beyond Peter and towards the future. Whether it be a community in exile or an Independent community they have to decide what model they want and start instituting it. It can't just revolve around Peter, as it has been, or it will wither and die. Furthermore being part of the official church gave Peter an out when it came to implementing various possibilities such as women's ministry. He could always say that it was not possible as it would mean an open breach with the Church. The breach has happened now so there is no longer any cause to resist implementation. It all depends on what model of community they adopt - a more Protestant model or a more Catholic one. If the former there is nothing to prevent appointing women as ministers to lead the communion service. If the latter, then Peter can ordain women and men as deacons. He could even ordain them as priests given the extraordinary and emergency circumstances or he could seek assistance from other Independent Catholic denominations either to seek consecration as a bishop himself (or of someone else in the community) or to affiliate. There are two such denominations in Brisbane as well as the Liberal Catholic church. My advice to them would be to provide assistance , if asked, for the 'community in exile' to become self-sustaining rather than to affiliate with them. My concern is that Peter Kennedy has moved to the very edges of what it means to be Catholic and perhaps beyond. It might be better for this community in exile to remain its own entity and I suspect any such affiliation would not be a happy one. But, judging on the rhetoric so far of both Peter and Terry (will he likewise walk out and minister at the TLC?) they will probably not take any such Catholic route. My real concern is that this has already become a cult of Peter Kennedy and I note that on the ABC news report he couldn't resist once more comparing himself to Christ. And according to this report in the Brisbane Times there are members of the congregation who also compare him to Christ (taking too far the Roman position that the priest is alter Christus?). I also note from the report Peter's fantasy of buying the Cathedral (with his brother's money - he's a wealthy "director of a public company") so I suspect that any offers of supportive affiliation might lead to a takeover bid in return from these exiles.

    Saturday, March 28, 2009

    Who Owns the Bible?

    My attention has been drawn to a couple of posts over at the Better Bibles Blog. David Ker writes about the question of publishers, bibles, copywright and bible in open source and online resources. He first of all raises the following questions:

    1. Who owns the Bible?
    2. Who owns the copyright on the Bible?
    3. Who owns the copyright on editions of the original languages?

    He then goes on to observe:

    What we’ve seen in the last century is publishers becoming the key players in Bible distribution in the developed world. We are at an interesting transition period in which Bible Societies are fading, Bible publishers are being snatched up by secular publishers, and an open source movement is afoot that is redefining the concept of “The Bible.” What is The Bible? Is it that book on your shelf? Or the software on your computer? Or the mp3s on your iPod? And the seemingly endless array of specialty editions of the Bible have further eroded the concept of “The Bible.” Study notes, cross references, little boxes with devotional thoughts in them. The list goes on. Is all that stuff “The Bible?”

    On the same blog, Wayne Leman asks: "Where have all the bibles gone" largely taking up points raised by Robert Jimenez on the Inquiring Minds blog. Leman and Jimenez provide data on the top ten bestselling bibles in the US and raise concerns that the TNIV or Today's New International Version doesn't seem to be selling and thus is not available in Christian bookstores. I must confess I'd never heard of the TNIV before and am going to have to add it to my collection.

    I have quite a few bibles. Naturally I have a Hebrew Bible and Greek New Testament. I also have the Rahlfs Septuaginta as wel as a Latin Vulgate Bible. In English, I have my trusty and well thumbed NRSV with all the deuterocanonicals. I also have my first bible, the Jerusalem Bible, which I've had since I was quite young/teens. I have a Douai Rheims English translation based on the Vulgate, plus 2 King James bibles - a small pocket version without Apocrypha/deuterocanonicals and a larger one with both them and the notes. I have the Lamsa bible based on the Peshitta, and the NIV, and the New American Bible, the JPS Tanakh. I also have a Good News Bible, the Orthodox Study Bible, the Dead Sea Scrolls Bible., the New English Translation of the Septuagint (NETS) and Brenton's 19th century edition of the LXX with Greek and English text. Plus, I have translations of individual books, mostly Genesis and Psalms, and the Schocken Torah. I also have translations of 1 Enoch and Jubilees and anthologies of texts including such parabiblical texts as Barnabas, Hermas, 1 & 2 Clement, Didache and Epistle to the Laodiceans and 3 Corinthians. I also have a couple of copies of the Odes of Solomon. Plus I have Bibleworks software package to boot. Finally I have three different transations of the Qur'an, one with Arabic and English text. All of these represent different types of bibles, translations and canons.

    However the varieties of bibles Leman and Jimenez are largely variations of the one theme, the standard English bible based on Hebrew Bible and Greek New Testament, the basic Protestant package as distributed by Bible Societies for the last two centuries. The TNIV is the latest instance of it. With its predecessor, the NIV, it has been very successfully exploited by Zondervan into a suite of 'niche bibles'. I have one example on my shelves, not mine but loaned to me a by a friend, True Identity: The Bible for Women, using the TNIV. There's also, as I said, a range of other such bibles - I've even seen a businessman's bible and I have to wonder what the NIV Adventure Bible was. True Identity is a rather fun read because it embeds the biblical text in a mass of notations and pious commentary promoting a woman's identity as wife and mother. Some of these juxtapositions are a Monty Python dream such as embedding Ruth in a mass of material about pre-marital sexual abstinence and the dangers of living together before marriage together with the importance of having your mother-in-law as your mentor. Ruth and Naomi, of course are the very model of woman to woman love; furthermore at Naomi's urging Ruth sets out to seduce Boaz, 'uncovering his feet' (3.7) to ensure his attention and marital commitment. At the end of the book, Boaz has disappeared (in Jewish tradition he died soon after his wedding night) leaving Ruth, Naomi and the child by Boaz as the perfect model of lesbian co-parents. Boaz is not much more than a sperm donor in this book.

    But I want to return to Ker's piece becaue in it he highlights and celebrates moves towards the establishment of comprehensive open source biblical resources online. This is very much to be welcomed. I think it's important for the third millennium that a more ecumenical understanding of biblical variety be not only adopted but positively promoted particularly amongst the varieties of Catholicism (these are, after all, Catholic Bibles one and all). For the Old Testament, as Augustine argued against Jerome, both Greek and Hebrew versions should run side by side (and I would add the Samaritan Torah and Joshua plus other variant editons of OT texts from Qumran such as Psalms and the Great Isaiah scroll). Such a move for the Old testament alone makes for much bigger bibles (especially if including 1 Enoch and Jubilees and other texts that have been part of canons in the past or currently in eastern churches).

    In fact it is the internet and bible software packages that really make possible the establishment of a truly ecumenical bible (the Targumim, Vulgate and Peshitta can also be incorporated easily in such platforms). That way people can come to appreciate the full breadth of the biblical texts and their variety, which I would also hope might serve as a corrective against literalism and fundamentalism. That's why it's sad to see on the Open Source bible site that they are sill stuck in the standard Protestant canonical format; it's merely one, and the most recent at that ,of a variety of Christian biblical canons.

    Wednesday, March 25, 2009

    World Day of Prayer for Women's Ordination

    Today is the World Day of Prayer for Women's Ordination. For more information check here. It's important to remember that the ordained order of deaconess is being revived in the Orthodox church. For the last 900 years or so Rome has insisted that women can't be ordained at all to anything. Not as far as the Orthodox are concerned. Further information here, here and here.

    Monday, March 23, 2009

    Qumran Controversies: Did Josephus Invent the Essenes?

    Now that the Queensland elections have had a happy outcome (and I'm pleased to see Anna Bligh moving quickly to reshape her government) it's about time I returned to things biblical or para-biblical. In the last few days there has been at least one kerfuffle over Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS). Jim Davila put up a post at PaleoJudaica 18 March 2009 about media reports of a new forthcoming book by an Israeli scholar, Rachel Elior.

    In it Elior argues that the Essenes, whom the scholarly consensus considers to have been behind the DSS, never existed but were invented by Josephus, the first century Jewish historian. According to the report in Arutz Sheva, what Elior principally objects to is Josephus' portrait of the Essenes as 'as celibates who lived near the Qumran caves where a Bedouin shepherd found the scrolls.' This picture of a celibate community has been adpted in the modern scholarly consensus folowing archeological descriptions of the ruins at Qumran in the vicinity of the caves where the scrolls were found as a type monastic cult centre.

    Instead she argues:

    ...that it is unreasonable to assume that observant Jews, as the Essenes are described, would not observe the Biblical commandment to “be fruitful and multiply.”

    She maintained that if the Essenes indeed existed and drifted from accepted Jewish practice, they would have earned a place in other texts.

    Elior claims that Josephus “wanted to explain to the Romans that the Jews weren't all losers and traitors, that there were many exceptional Jews of religious devotion and heroism. You might say it was the first rebuttal to anti-Semitic literature. He was probably inspired by the Spartans… Josephus wanted to portray Jews who were like the Spartans in their ideals and high virtue.”

    The Hebrew University researcher and lecturer theorizes that the real authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls were the sons of Tzadok, a "caste" of priests who were banished from the Holy Temple by Greek rulers and took their scrolls with them.

    She notes that “the scrolls attest to a Biblical priestly heritage."

    I am not a Qumran expert and neither am I an expert in the DSS, although I have in my Library several collections of texts from Qumran in English translation including the invaluable Dead Sea Scrolls Bible, by Martin Abegg, Peter Flint and Eugene Ulrich - a translation of the Qumran Hebrew and Greek texts of the Old Testament - as well as The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation, by Michael Wise, Martin Abegg and Edward Cook - a comprehensive collection in English of the non (-standard) biblical texts from Qumran (it includes 1 Enoch and Jubilees which are in the Ethiopian bible).

    The main importance of Qumran for biblical scholars is that the oldest Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic texts of the Old Testament were found there. Amongst other things, they attest to the plurality of editions/versions of so many of these texts that existed 2000 years ago. The texts also provide a fascinating glimpse into the religious mindset of Second Temple Judaism from which both Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism emerged. As with the biblical texts, the scrolls attest to the rich diversity/plurality and, dare I say, alienness of that ancient Jewish world. Both Christians and Jews have tended to imagine ancient Judaism as something like their own world - for Christians a type of Old Testament Christianity without Christ and for Jews a world following in full all of the elements of what it has meant to be a good Jew since the days of Mishnah. Both Jews and Christians have retrojected Old Testament/Tanakh/Mishnah on to that world as a way of asserting their continuity with (and ownership of) it.

    But while I do think both Christianity (primarily Catholic Christianities) and Rabbinic Judaism (together with Karaite Judaism, Kabbalistic Judaism, Samaritan Judaism, other forms of Judaism such as Ethiopian and Indian, as well as some forms of Gnosticism) stand in direct continuity with trajectories of that ancient Jewish world, they do not stand in a logical succession to it such that it is a simple mirror of them or that it is a simpler 'primitive' version of what they are now. There is nothing in that ancient religious world that naturally pre-ordained Rabbinic Judaism or Catholic Christianities. If there had been a different sequence of events i.e. Jesus was not executed or the Temple was not destroyed, there would be no Catholic Christianities (and no Protestant Chrisitnaities either as they are born out of the medieval western Church and Renaissance) and no Rabbinic Judaism. Indeed with the Temple still standing there could be no Rabbinic Judaism as we've known it. It's the end of the Temple that enables and prompts the rise of the Rabbis (rabbinic Temple rebuilders take note - a rebuilt Temple spells the eclipse of the Rabbis).

    That being said, I am aware that there are a range of hypotheses around Qumran and the people of the Scrolls. I have to agree with Douglas Mangum at Biblica Hebraica who makes the following points:
    While I have no vested interest in defending Elior, I enjoy questioning consensus positions whenever given the opportunity. The evidence from Collins and Vanderkam is circumstantial, at best. The argument boils down to: they resemble Essenes; they lived near where Essenes might have lived; therefore, they were likely Essenes unless proven otherwise. Then, the evidence brought forward to prove otherwise is discounted or explained away.

    The argument only works if one accepts their assumptions that the community that produced the scrolls lived at Qumran, that the sectarian scrolls present a unified voice (reflecting only 1 group within Second Temple Judaism), and that the Essenes existed long before any of the sources we have about them....

    they’re more like Essenes than any other Jewish group we know of, so they must have been Essenes. Not necessarily. I prefer just referring to them as the Qumran sect or the Yachad (one of their names for themselves) rather than applying a foreign label to the group.

    The problem, in my view, is that the sectarian documents do not present a unified perspective on many issues. The Damascus Document and Community Rule are fairly consistent, but the calendrical scrolls reflect both the 364 day solar calendar predominantly preferred by the sect and the usual lunar calendar condemned by the sect as completely incorrect.

    Furthermore, 4QMMT reflects halakhic positions more like Sadducees, than Essenes. The classic example is about the purity of streams of liquid (4QMMT, B, lines 55-58) where the sect’s interpretation matches that of the Sadducees as reported in Mishnah Yadaim 4.7.

    The likelihood that the sectarian scrolls don’t reflect a single group helps explain texts that are difficult to reconcile with Essene beliefs such as the War Scroll (attributed to a peaceful non-violent sect?!).

    For the record, I don’t fully subscribe to N. Golb’s theory of DSS origins either, though he raises a few good points. The chaos surrounding the First Revolt provides a good historical backdrop for concealing the scrolls and the occupation conveniently ends with a destruction at Qumran at the time of the revolt. (Yes, I know there’s no necessary connection with the site, but its possible occupation as a fortification during the revolt would make it a logical location for hiding the scrolls nearby.)

    And his mention of Golb reminds us of the controversy there and further fuelled by his son, Raphael, now accused of setting up bogus internet accounts and even stealing the identity of Golb's main opponent, Lawrence Schiffman, so as to discredit him. Who said the world of scholarship was a dry and tedious affair?

    Returning to Rachel Elior, with all of Mangum's caveats I have to confess to two problems with her argument that the Essenes were invented by Josephus. Firstly, both Philo of Alexandria and Pliny refer to the Essenes before Josephus wrote his histories, in the case of Philo many decades before Josephus wrote his accounts. And there are references to Essenes in subsequent Jewish literature as well. My second problem lies in Elior claiming that 'it is unreasonable to assume that observant Jews, as the Essenes are described, would not observe the Biblical commandment to “be fruitful and multiply.”' I can't help but think that she is remaking ancient Judaism in the image of the later Rabbinic Judaism. Philo refers to other Jewish communities in Egypt that appear to live celibate lifestyles. From the New Testament, it seems clear that John the Baptist and Jesus were both celibates (I don't subscribe to the Jesus-was-married theories) as was Paul, and, by subsequent tradition, both John and Thomas. Furthermore, celibacy was one of the hallmarks of the more radical wing of early Christianity. I can't help but think that it had a Jewish background like most else, it now appears, in early Christianity.

    Were the Essenes connected to the Dead Sea Scrolls? Maybe yes, maybe no. We can't really know without more certain evidence (and who knows what other texts remain to be discovered). But the most important thing about the Scrolls are the Scrolls themselves and the glimpse they provide into the incredibly diverse and pluralist world, a world both extremely alien but remarkably all the more familiar for that, of ancient Judaism.

    For more on the Elior controversy check out Doug Mangum's posts here and here. Also Jim Davila here and then track back through 'Background here' at the end of each post.

    Sunday, March 22, 2009

    Deo gratias! Jubilate Deo! Yay for Premier Anna!

    I'd like to think my processing of the icons yesterday helped. I ran into Claire Moore at the local polling booth yesterday and mentioned that I'd said prayers to St Anne. She smiled and said she'd been doing some praying herself. But yes, Anna Bligh has been returned as Premier! As Mark Bahnisch says at Pineapple Party Time, Welcome to the Anna Heterogeneity! He continues:

    I don’t like to use the term “hegemony” because my hope is that under Anna Bligh, the first woman elected as a Premier in Australia from a supposedly conservative state, we’ll finally collectively wake up to the fact that the Smart State is at the forefront of a diverse and exciting country that’s in the process of emerging. And living with heterogeneity is a much better prospect than assimilation into the hivemind of The Borg. I’m still thinking that whoever came up with the bright idea of applying that moniker to Lawrence perhaps wasn’t that big a Trekkie.

    He also points out:

    after a campaign characterised by apathy and a disposition to vote against an eleven year old government, voters only really focused on the choice incredibly late in the game. There’s tons of evidence around that beneath the repetitive drumbeat of the polls there was a lot of volatility, as I’ve been arguing over the last few days.

    The campaign was also taken out of the hands of the apparatchiks who were steering the ship of state towards the shoals, and the whole weight of the federal ALP was placed behind the state effort - not just the rhetorical intervention of Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, but also organisationally, driven by Wayne Swan’s personal intervention, backed by the PM. The Bligh 30 seat marathon signalled the turn to the realisation that the way to win was to “Let Anna Be Anna!”…

    In the final analysis, Lawrence Springborg sunk his own ship, and Anna Bligh, having finally escaped the cold dead hand of the ALP apparat, won the thing on the basis of her own personal qualities. Her victory as the first elected female Premier in Australia is thoroughly well deserved, and she will enjoy a much enhanced authority in the party and over the government.

    It’s Bligh’s victory. And she now has the chance to stake out a new direction for Labor and Queensland.

    I did a rough astrology chart for Anna yesterday and realised from the transits happening that if she did lose it would probably be the best thing in her life personally but, of course, on the other hand it inidicated that she could win and very much by taking up the challenges and running with them. She did in the last week of the campaign and she'll continue to do so in the coming weeks, months and years. Her victory brings to an end the lingering shadow of the Joh years (and the younger John Boy Bj-P) failed yet again to pick up the seat based on his father's old territory.

    As Anna pointed out last night - she is the first female Premier to be elected to government in her own right putting paid to the old image of Queensland as a hotbed of reaction and conservatism that both she and I grew up with. This achievement actually stands in continuity with older progressive traditions of the Qld ALP. Back in the 1920s, the State Labor gov't carried out a dazzling range of reforms including abolishing the death penalty, establishing free hospitals, even a ndetwork of state owned butcher shops!

    I hope Anna picks up on those progressive trajectories to give her government an unashamedly reformist and inclusive stance as opposed to the rather bland, even conservative, managerialism of the past decade.

    Interesting too that in the comments on Mark's piece that someone noted:

    During the campaign I asked how much the polls had taken the women’s vote into account. I had noticed in Cleveland she was more liked by women than men.

    The other night my 80 something year old mother complained of how much she hated all the election stuff on TV but then went on to say that she thought Anna deserved a go. She then went on to say how much she liked that 'Julia... Julia... is it Julia Goddard?' "Gillard, Mum' I answered to which she then went on to praise Gillard's plain speaking and obvious capability as a Minister and Deputy PM. I hope that's a positive omen for the future in a couple of terms or so.

    Friday, March 20, 2009

    Election Eve in Queensland: Processing the Icons

    It's Friday night and my brain is feelng rather fried from an early start for tutoring at Griffith today - two two hour tutes, the first at 8am. Last night I was at a 4 hour induction seminar for new casuals at Griffith so I got home at around 10.30pm, my brain still fired up and, thus, didn't get to sleep until mid-early morning about 2.30am.

    Tomorrow is election day here in Qld and all the prognostications seem ominous for a possible change of government although I heard something on the news about a last minute rally to Labor in a poll to be released tomorrow, I think, in the Australian. You can get more info over at Pineapple Party Time. Today on the way home I lit a candle in the chapel at St Stephens Cathderal and said a prayer for Labor scraping home. My flatmate and I were talking tonight about mounting a procession with icons in good old Constantinopolitan style. Whenever the barbarians were at the gates, the good folk of the city would process along the walls with icons and candles and incense and chant calling on saints and angels - especially St Michael the archangel - and, of course, Mary Theotokos. So tomorrow I just might go back to the Cathedral for the morning Marian mass, and call on not only Mary Theotokos and St Michael but also St Anne, by tradition, the mother of Mary and for whom our Premier, Anna Bligh, is named. I do not want to live again under a National Party gov't and the LNP, despite its change of name, still smells as foul, foul as any breath of Mordor. Mythology, even modern mythology like Tolkien's, can still provide an viable framework to view the world. And the Borg, well, doesn't sound that much different to orc - would you trust a man with a smile like this?

    And just to cap things off, a friend has sent me a link to a latest piece of silliness at St Mary's, this time by the other priest no one wants to focus on, Terry Fitzpatrick. He concludes thus:

    What makes St Mary’s different is that the views in the pews matter, and out of those views, supported by priests who acknowledge the reality of paradigm shifts and are not afraid to embrace them, have come models of God, Christ and Church that make sense to people as they struggle to live their lives, faithful to the message of Jesus, in the twenty-first century.

    St Mary’s is at the vanguard of a paradigm shift. Like all heralders of such shifts, the Community may well be extinguished as one would a spot fire. But the spot fires will continue to break out and grow in number and then eventually explode into a roaring inferno. And the hierarchical Catholic Church will once again be overtaken, thankfully, by the innate wisdom of the people of God.

    Stuff and nonsense! Terry wouldn't know a paradigm shift if it bit him on the backside. But then on the strength of a few retreats at Chenrezig Institute he feels qualified to teach Buddhist meditation! And as I said in my last post, I'm hearing reports that Peter Kennedy, and no doubt Terry in his shadow, have been quite authoritarian in the handling of this affair, without any real concern for the people on the pews who of course don't know all the issues behind these dramas.

    St Anna, St Michael and Holy Mary Theotokos, save us from the Borg and his L National Party and save Premier Anna, even though Labor has been unworthy in its campaign. I don't ask that you save the backroom boys who foisted this mess on us - they deserve the accounting they must surely get after the votes are counted tomorrow night, regardless of the outcome. Just save Anna as our Premier. And save us, too, from such "paradigm shifting" priests as these.

    But on a brighter note, I recommend this latest from Slacktivist, Jericho to Jerusalem. Not only will you find out about the Inn of the Good Samaritan along the road between Jericho and Jerusalem but when you get to the end you can also follow the link and end up here, St George's Monastery, Palestine.

    Wednesday, March 18, 2009

    Radio National's Encounter Programme on St Mary's

    Last Sunday's Encounter programme was a special feature on the St Mary's dramas. In a sense it promised more than it delivered but then I'm not certain if Encounter is the right sort of programme to cover the current imbroglio. It's mostly a series of interviews with Archbishop Bathersby, Peter Kennedy and some of the congregants interwoven with some sound grabs from a recent Sunday service at St Mary's. So it gives more of an impressionistic account rather than an investigative one and, given that most of the interviewees are from St Mary's, with Bathersby the only speaker with an opposite stance, one could say that the programme is heavily weighted towards the current 'orthodoxy' at St Mary's.

    Two things strike me about the programme. Firstly, the lack of any theological depth or even understanding by any of the speakers, and I include here the Archbishop. I personally think Bathersby is someone with a better heart than mind, his sermons really are endurance tests, at least the ones I've had to sit through. In his interview, Bathersby mostly goes over the history of the dispute: he does touch on some theological issues such as the Trinity, Eucharist and Mary but not in any specific way. The most specific he gets is about the power dynamics of the Roman Church:

    I mean, it’s a structure that comes from the Pope through the bishops, through the priests and then to the members of the church, and the priest is the leader of the community, he’s the pastor, he’s the teacher of that community.

    Particularly since the second Vatican council we are encouraged to bring laypeople
    into the life of the church. Certainly laypeople didn’t have a great say within the life
    of the church and many would say they still don’t have enough say within the life of
    the church. But nevertheless the second Vatican council was on about reaching out to
    the world, and because of that therefore laypeople came into it. But it was still a
    structure in which the priest would consult the laypeople, would seek advice from the
    laypeople, if possible would seek a consensus about decisions and then to follow
    through on that decision.
    What Bathersby is presenting is a sacralised version of the corporate hierarchy at a time when the corporate world is so much in disrepute. Besides this is his weakest point theologically. This historic model that he describes only came into in existence in the late medieval period and was heavily contested especially at the Reformation but did not come into full flower until the late 19th and early 20th centuries. And this top-down model of authority in the Roman church is really a stultifying blight. It represents the imperial ambitions of the Papacy whereby the office is configured as a type of secular ruler or more recently as the ruthless CEO a la the former Telstra boss, Sol Trujillo, or even as a sacral form of the Leninist democratic centralism which dictators like Stalin and Mao used to ruthless advantage. Was the old Communist Party of the Soviet Union modelled on Vatican ambitions for the Church? Did Stalin maintain a tacit admiration for the Pope's apparat?

    So speaking in this way Bathersby has essentially alienated people who don't know or understand the real issues at St Mary's and maybe Bathersby doesn't understand them himself. He won't go there to check it out lest his presence be seen as an endorsement but surely he could get copies of the weekly service sheet or even send a delegation to observe the Sunday service? Bathersby would have been on much stronger ground affirming eucharistic theology but then the danger is that there are radical implications of such theology that not only challenge what has been done at St Mary's but also challenge the Archbishop's on top down model of church. However I think he was spot on when he says:

    Now you’ll even get people over there who very strongly don’t agree with what
    Father Peter is doing. It’s been said to me he’s going to drag this whole show down
    and it will go through the plughole. And they’re not happy about that, and they would
    say, with all due respect to Father Peter, that the authority lies with him and you better believe it, they say to me. I think there is a very strong authoritarian aspect in Father Peter himself, but you talk to him and he says no, the authority is out there with the people.

    I've received similar complaints and have been told stories about Kennedy coming down in quite a strong authoritarian way to ensure his position is unchallenged by anyone at St Mary's.

    Turning to Peter Kennedy's interview, I can only say how sad it was to listen to it. I remember him giving really interesting sermons once many years ago but it seems that he has completely lost his way theologically. Not only that but doesn't even understand the old heresies. Peter seems nowadays to hold a mixture of Protestant Unitarian perspective whereby Jesus was simply a very inspired man, a kind of wandering guru or first century Palestinian hippie, or in a more sophisticated version a kind of Jewish Socrates, but also blended with a little New Age theosophical notions of Jesus as an avatar of the divine. So Peter makes an appeal to Arius:
    If I’m going to be true to myself here, I would say that I would rather believe that Jesus was a human person rather than what the church teaches that Jesus is a divine person with a human and divine nature. I would tend rather to agree with Arius that Jesus was a human person.
    But that's not what Arius taught at all. It would appear that Arius taught that Jesus was either a kind of subordinate divine figure but not part of the Godhead or possibly that he was some sort supreme angelic figure. But Arius never taught that Jesus was just a human person. Islam teaches that, as do Unitarians, Jehovah's Witnesses and Christadelphians and it's a strain in forms of liberal Protestantism. Many Protestant fundamentalists when getting over their fundamentalism adopt this sort of Jesusology, one example is the late Robert Funk who kicked off the Jesus Seminar. Funk wouldn't have bought the Jesus the avatar business but he certainly had a similar religious imperialism agenda, whereby the rationalist/hippie Jesus could be the focus for a new religiosity that would absorb all the world's religions - a kind of liberal counterpart to that good old-time evangelical missionary fervor.

    Citing Arius, Peter Kennedy then calls on some vision of the 'pre-Constantinian Church.' It's an old Reformation trope - to get back to some pure original Christian experience. It's pretty common on many evangelical Christian sites, especially the Rapture-ready, to decry Constantine as the evil genius who set up the Catholic Church and destroyed Christianity by paganising it. While Constantine was responsible for the Roman Empire appropriating the Church, the Church was quite happy to be appropriated and was also busy, itself, appropriating the Roman Empire. Appropriation is a two way street as evidenced today by the push for same-sex marriage by LGBT people. And I should add that the Arians were just as keen on the Constantinian church too. Several 4th century Emperoros were Arians themselves and tried to exert imperial power to make Arianise the Church. The Arians themselves were great missionaries and Christianised many of the barbarians. Indeed the barbarians that detroyed the western Roman Empire , the Vandals, Goths etc, were themselves Arian Christians and these Arian churches were just as much Constantinian churches as the Roman Empire one. And if Peter Kennedy really wants to go back to the pre-Constantinian Church, he'd better be sure he keeps clear of Ignatius of Antioch, to cite just one example.

    But even worse than the poor theology was the faux humility, masking an incredible arrogance and elitism. He says of his congregation

    And we’ve always done that with our people at St Mary’s, they’re adults, for God’s sake, they’re professional people, they’re far more educated than most priests.

    That's certainly true. St Mary's is very much a white upper middle class congregation, despite all the claims about its outreach to the homeless. In all my years there, I rarely saw anyone wander in from the St Vincents hostel next door (or indigenous people either for that matter). And while Kennedy's congregants might be more educated than most priests, those interviewed for the programme showed no more theological sophistication than Peter Kennedy himself. And I come back to Bathersby's point

    It’s been said to me he’s going to drag this whole show down and it will go through the plughole. And they’re not happy about that, and they would say, with all due respect to Father Peter, that the authority lies with him and you better believe it, they say to me. I think there is a very strong authoritarian aspect in Father Peter himself, but you talk to him and he says no, the authority is out there with the people.

    I have heard similar complaints. And while most might not complain, although they are more educated than most priests, they are still prepared to follow what Father says, in this case what Peter says. There is much more I could say about the content of the programme and the interview transcripts but time and space don't allow.

    What I do want to conclude on is the incredible wasted opportunities by the makers of the Encounter special feature. Granted Encounter is not an investigative programme but it would have been a lot more interesting exercise if someone had tried to seek out those critical voices from St Mary's, the Archbishop refers too. Given Encounter is a religious programme they might also have tried to explore in greater depth the theological issues at play at St Mary's, especially those to do with the Eucharist. There is another glaring omission amongst the voices of St Mary's, namely the other priest, Terry Fitzpatrick. Given that Terry's status was one of the main issues raised in Bathersby's letter to St Mary's back in August, I'm amazed that no one thought to interview him. In the sound bites of St Mary's sunday service you can even hear him leading the congregation in prayer. So why was he not interviewed? Why the focus on Peter Kennedy? That's been the real problem with media coverage of the whole drama - it's been superficial and hasn't bothered to get into substantive issues at all. Instead it runs a simplistic people versus the hierarchy trope which draws on long traditions of sectarianism in this country whereby you have a moribund reactionary hierarchy versus plucky democratic congregation like the rest of us and who just want to be like the rest of us. And unfortunately the Roman hierarchy seem all too willing to live up to such expectations. And yet the same media organisations are very much moribund reactionary hierarchies themselves, including the ABC, as evidenced by its handling of the Religion Report last year.

    I still plan a further post on the overall media coverage of St Mary's which will go into greater detail about some of the issues arising from Encounter's treatment of the story and how the rest of the media have similarly covered it; but not tonight.

    Pope goes tragically wrong on HIV/AIDS

    This story in today's Guardian is very disturbing. It appears Pope Benedict XVI is visiting Africa. En route to Cameroon, the Pope told journalists "condoms were not the answer to the continent's fight against HIV and Aids and could make the problem worse." He went on to say that HIV/AIDS is "a tragedy that cannot be overcome by money alone, that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problems." Another report cited on the Bad Attitudes blog quotes from a Wall St Journal report:
    Pope Benedict XVI said on his way to Africa Tuesday that condoms weren’t the answer in the continent’s fight against HIV, his first explicit statement on an issue that has divided even clergy working with AIDS patients…

    “You can’t resolve it with the distribution of condoms,” the pope told reporters aboard the Alitalia plane headed to Yaounde, Cameroon, where he will begin a seven-day pilgrimage on the continent. “On the contrary, it increases the problem.”

    The Pope clearly doesn't understand HIV/AIDS and nor does he understand Africa's problems and the way these facilitate the pandemic. In 2005 he told a gathering of southern African bishops in Rome:

    It is of great concern that the fabric of African life, its very source of hope and stability, is threatened by divorce, abortion, prostitution, human trafficking and a contraception mentality
    HIV/AIDS is an epidemic that thrives on oppress9on, injustice and oppression. Back in January, I had the pleasure to read and review Musa Dube's HIV & AIDS Bible. As well as a scholar at the University of Botswana, Musa Dube is also HIV & AIDS Theological and Gender Consultant for the World Council of Churches.Her diagnosis of the problems that Africa faces and that are the cause of the spread of HIV? "Poverty, gender inequality, child abuse, racism, ethnic conflict, war, international injustice and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation" She also call on the Churches to recognise and acknowledge that the Body of Christ is HIV+. She calls on the churches to put the sustenance and maintenance of life at the centre of their praxis instead of maintaining rigid moralities that marginalise and disempower those most at risk. Rome's stance on contraception and condoms is one such example of the Church getting it so wrong. The irony, of course, is that most African countries can't afford the free condom regime that is a necessary part of preventing HIV transmission. But this is one area that the Churches could assist, at the very least by targetted distribution of condoms to those most at risk and the promotion of HIV education for women and children especially to empower themselves as sexual beings. Benedict by his ignorant statements on HIV has shown himself to part of the problem and not the solution, an AIDS criminal who by not recognising that the Body of Christ is HIV+ is guilty of crucifying Christ again and again

    Tuesday, March 17, 2009

    Some Further Thoughts on the Book of Esther

    My previous post on Velveteen Rabbi's reflections on the Book of Esther left me thinking some more on some of the interesting facts about this text. It is, as she points out, the one text in the Hebrew Bible that contains no explicit reference to God or YHWH although she reminds us that "many readers (especially Hasidic commentators) find God's presence hidden subtly all over the text." Esther is also a text whose purpose seems to be giving scriptural warrant to the Festival of Purim (9.18-32). Scholars are divided over the origins of this festival. Some have argued that it is derived from the Persian New Year or from a Persian Day of the Dead. Others have argued a Babylonian background, especially as the names Mordecai and Esther are likely derived from the Babylonian deities, Marduk and Ishtar. Given that the Jewish holy days in Leviticus have analogues in the broader cultural world of the ancient Middle East and its agricultural, I'm sure that Purim is a scripturally "baptised" festival of some sort taken up into Temple Judaism. The Old Testament biblical project is one of reworking, deconstructing and reconstructing the older "pagan" religious matrix from which it developed.

    The other interesting point about Esther is that it exists in multiple versions. As well as the Hebrew version, there are not one but two Greek versions which are included in the Greek Bible or Septuagint and termed the A version and the B vesion. Both have a core story that largely is equivalent to the story of Hebrew Esther but augmented with a number of additions. These are:

    A. The Dream of Mordecai, which introduces the book (1.a-k, in my Orthodox Bible; 11.2-12.6 in the Latin Vulgate)

    B. The text of Haman's edict, written in the name of the king, for the destruction of the Jews, inserted in chapter 3 (3.13a-13g; 13.1-7 Vulgate)

    C. Prayers of Esther and Mordecai, inserted after Esther 4.17 (4.17a-17w; 13.8-14.19 Vulgate)

    D. An extended account of Esther's confrontation with her husband the king, replacing Hebrew Esther 5.1ff (15.1-16 Vulgate)

    E. The text of the king's edict rescinding the previous edict issued in his name by Haman, inserted after 8.12 (8.12a-812u, 16.1-24 Vulgate)

    F. An Epilogue in which Mordecai reflects on his dream and which provides more warrant for Purim and concludes with a colophon giving a futher scribal confirmation of the authenticity of the text.

    According to David de Silva (Introducing the Apocrypha, 2002) the base text of Version A is translated from a different Semitic original than that of Version B but has taken up the additions from Version B. A number of scholars have argued that the base text of Version A is older than the standard Hebrew version. It was also orignally thought that all of the additions were composed in Greek but there is now a consensus that only Additions B and E are Greek compositions while A, C, D & F were originally in Hebrew or Aramaic. So the Greek evidence indicates that there were at least two version of the base Esther narrative in circulation and that it was augmented with additions.

    It would appear that took some time for Esther to be accepted into both Jewish and Christian canons. No version has been found at Qumran although some scholars have argued that 4Q550, the Tale of Patireza and Bagasraw, could be an Esther prototype. But whole this story is set in the court of the Great King it only has superficial similarities. Rather than a prototype it might have provided a model for inspiration but that can only ever be a might as the two stories are different.

    Under, the influence of Jerome, the Greek Additions to Esther, were relegated to a postscript. Jerome put them all at the end of the Hebrew version which is the standard or the Vulgate (and thus making a fourth version of Esther, albeit an unsatisfactory one). Protestants consigned them to the Apocrypha and hence they have disappeared from most English language (and derived) Bibles.

    It was intersting, then to discover that in the Jewish Aramaic Bible or Targumim there are actually two versions of Esther. The Targumim deploy paraphrase extensively in the translations from the Hebrew and are not averse to inserting additional material, especially if it can enhance a narrative or the meaning of a particular passage. In the case of both Targumim to Esther, Targum Rishon and Targum Sheni, these additions are quite considerable, reminiscent of the Greek Additions. Indeed the Targum Sheni inserts material on Solomon and the Queen of Sheba!

    It would appear then that Esther has had a quite complicated history, starting life as a religious burlesque for performance at a popular Feast of Fools, probably composed in the Temple. For whatever reason another edition was released and both circulated in Jewish communities. Some communities added further material resulting in three or four circulating two of which would be taken up by Christians. In the Jewish world one text became standard, eventually itself being augmented with new additional material by different communities for a variety of reasons, exegetical, performative etc.

    Through all of this process, text, cult and community seem inextricably linked. In the Jewish world, Esther is primarly a performative text, not just in terms of public recitation but also in a plethora of dramatic and carnival forms. I can't help but think that these performances have themselves helped to shape the meta-text of Esther as we know it today in its multiple forms. None have the patina of greater authenticity although Jerome's Latin version is by far the most artificial, in part because he is on the quest for the 'Hebrew truth' of the original. But just as there never was an Esther or Mordecai so there is no original text to be found. It is lost, along with the origins of Purim. And even if we could rediscover or reconstruct an original text, it could tell us nothing except in relation to the others comprising the meta-text that already exists. Any original text is merely a starting point not a vehicle of revelation.

    Monday, March 16, 2009

    My Essay Now Published in Bible and Critical Theory e-journal

    My essay, Atonement patterns in biblical narrative:Rebellious Sons, Scapegoats and Boy Substitutes, is now out in the first issue for 2009 of the Bible & Critical Theory e-Journal. Below is the abstract:

    The paper gives an overview of Atonement ritual patterns and symbolism before examining how Atonement elements are played out in certain biblical narratives. I survey a number of narratives from Genesis, Joshua, Judges and 1 Samuel before exploring the atonement patterns in the 2 Samuel story of the rebellion and death of Absalom. The Day of Atonement was not unique to the ‘Israelite’ Temple/s. While I believe ‘Israel’ had its own unique understanding of Atonement, ‘Israelite’ Temple symbolism, rituals and motifs are derived from and are part of a broader family of Middle Eastern Temple theologies and practice. Atonement is related to the New Year and world renewal, celebrating the divine overcoming of Chaos e.g Marduk vs Tiamat, El/Athirat vs Yam/Leviathan, Baal vs Yam & Mot, YHWH vs Yam/Leviathan(/Azazel?). Over 30 years ago, Rictor Norton identified a homo-erotic element in such mythologies and associated sacrificial rituals. My reading of Atonement patterns in the Absalom narrative highlights such homo-erotic possibilities.

    If that whets your appetite, I'm afraid the e-Journal is only available through individual subscription or through subscribing libraries. These will most likely be university libraries. However, in this issue there are a couple of free access items: the editorial by Roland Boer and Julie Kelso, and an essay, Sour Grapes, Fermented Selves: Musical Shulammites Modulate Subjectivity, by Heidi Epstein. Here's the abstract to encourage you to check it out:

    How might a strange intersection of disparate fields – biblical criticism and New Musicology – generate mutually sustenant fruit? ‘Seeds’ for the latter, I propose, would lie in reading musical settings of the Song of Solomon with interpretive lenses that New Musicologists have been developing since the late 1980s. In this essay, musical settings of the Song are read from this perspective in hopes that such new musicological ‘exegeses’ may add discursive breadth to the latest biblical critical discussions about the Song’s thematics. This paper places two pop music settings of the Song ‘in conversation’ with opposing sides of a recent debate over the Song’s erotic content: feminist (biblical) scholars conventionally framed the Song and its heroine’s romantic pursuits as odes to the joy of egalitarian heterosexual love; more recent provocateurs have queered its pitch to accommodate s/m fantasies of a bottom’s ‘pain-filled pleasures’ (Boer, Moore and Burrus). Steeleye Span’s ‘Awake, awake’ (1977) and the Pixies’ ‘I’ve Been Tired’ (1987) curiously anticipate these polemics. Steeleye’s electric folk and the Pixies’ post-punk alternative styles seem respectively to honour and revile this canonical text and its mysterious animatrice. The former’s music and lyrics reproduce the harmonious, linear pas de deux thatreaders coerce from the text. By contrast, the latter’s soundscape drags the pair through musical grunge. However, reread via New Musicology’s sense of music as a culturally inflected ‘technique of the self,’ study of text-music relations, the songs’ historical contexts, and the social meanings of musical genre recast these two settings as fraternal twins. Additionally, the Shulammite’s musical peregrinations produce new allegorical registers within the canticle, and broaden in unlikely directions the scope of the sonically rendered ‘sacred erotic,’ now disruptively reconfigured within popular music.

    You can also read the abstracts for the other essays in this issue on the site. These are:

    Back to the future: Reading Heidegger Reading Paul, Lars Brunn

    Bobbittizing God: On the importance of the divine genitals remaining unManageable, Philip Culbertson

    How to read an interpretation: Interpretive strategies and the maintenance of authority, Craig Martin

    And as always there's a stack of book reviews.

    Sunday, March 15, 2009

    Left Behind Fridays on Slacktivist

    If you haven't checked it out yet I strongly recommend the Left Behind Friday series of posts over at Slacktivist. The latest instalment, TF: The Militant Verna, continues his reading of Tribulation Force, the second instalment of the probably world's worst series of of novels of all time, which Fred Clark began last month. Here Fred exposes the misogynist and homophobic assumptions that underpin LaHaye's and Jenkins' worldview and indeed the worldview of that conservative, US-centric, born-again, rapture expecting Protestant Christianity. As Clark points out, as well as misogyny, there is an incredible double standard based on male privilege that underpins L&J's representations of their male heroes as is shown in this incident concerning the journalist character, Cameron "Buck" Williams and his dressing down by his new boss, the "militant" Verna Zee. I quote directly from Fred Clark:

    Every sentence in these pages portrays Buck as a swaggering idiot whose only response to his demotion is an expanded sense of entitlement and self-importance, yet we're not meant to perceive Buck this way at all.... It's hard enough to keep liking a character despite such a passage, but L&J want readers to like Buck even more because of it. It's not Buck they want us laughing at and despising here, but the militant Verna.

    Yet the word militant is used here without further explanation because LaHaye & Jenkins assume that their intended audience will understand it in the context of a larger, ongoing story. That story is what they like to call the "culture war" here in the United States, and Verna Zee is, in the familiar phrase of the culture warriors, either a militant feminist or a militant homosexual. They needn't explain which, specifically, since in their view the two categories overlap.

    The phrase "militant homosexual" is so common in religious-right jargon that L&J seem not to realize how peculiar it sounds to anyone who doesn't share their phobias. It provides us a glimpse of how they perceive the Pink Menace of homosexuality -- a faceless horde in refugee camps south of the border, lobbing deadly, indiscriminate rockets of gayness toward their peaceful homes.

    But the key point here, as it applies to the militant Verna, is that for L&J and their intended audience, "militant feminist" is always regarded as a subset of "militant homosexual." For them, in other words, all feminists are presumed to be lesbians, and all lesbians are presumed to hate men.

    This leap from sexual orientation to a presumption of militant hatred is illuminating. L&J's visceral opposition to the presumed militant feminists/lesbians is proclaimed as a defense of sexual morality, but that claim is ironic, since lurking just below the surface here is a staggering sexual incontinence. Their cartoonish depiction of the militant Verna Zee is simply L&J's expression of frat-boy douchebag sexual entitlement. Their purported complaint that she fails to display a requisite femininity or wifely submission seems really just the insistence that women -- all women -- provide universal sexual access. They are saying, in effect, "If you don't agree to have sex with me when I want, whenever I want, then you must be a lesbian. A militant lesbian."..

    ...If we can manage, however, to screen out the appalling contempt piled on poor Verna here, it's also worth taking a closer look at Buck Williams' behavior in this scene so we can try to figure out what on earth he's thinking.

    We're told that upon arrival, "Buck winked at Alice, Verna's spike-haired young secretary." After Verna informs him that he will need an appointment to get a meeting with her, he sits down next to Alice's desk and proceeds to flirt with her for the next two pages.

    "You can call me Buck," he whispered.

    "Thanks," she said shyly, pointing to a chair beside her desk.

    They whisper together for several more paragraphs, Alice giggling even though Buck never says anything actually funny.

    The authors intend us to view Alice sympathetically. She's accommodating, subservient, fawningly grateful for Buck's very presence. She is, in other words, available...

    There are at least two obvious problems with Buck's idly passing the time here with his idea of light-hearted flirtatious banter. First, he's supposedly still in the throes of sappy, first-blush-of-love smittenness over Chloe. Do you think the authors would have approved if instead of Buck and Alice, it had been Chloe and Allen whispering, giggling and winking at one another? Me neither.

    But apart from the question of whether light-hearted, flirtatious banter is appropriate with Alice, there's the matter of whether such frivolous chit-chat is at all appropriate or human-seeming just two weeks after the Event... In the wake of the sudden disintegration of every child on the planet and the deaths and disappearances of millions more adults, greeting people with a flirty wink just seems terribly, terribly wrong.

    Indeed, as several people observe in the comments to this post, L&J's portrayal of "Buck"'s swaggering ineraction with women borders on pornography. Women must always be available for male desire. And indeed the Left behind series can be considered a species of Protestant porn, both in its sexual and gender dynamics as well as its schadenfreude. I can't praise Left Behind Fridays enough and I encourage you to make it a part of your regular reading, especially if you've at any time had to live in the shadow of the Rapture heresy.

    Queensland Elections and the Biggest Lies: LNP(National Party) campaigns and the Queer Communities

    It's election time here in Qld; election day is next Saturday. Despite calling the election, the ALP's campaign could best be summed up "Election? What Election?" The LNP, a.k.a. the National Party wearing a bit of Liberal drag, on the other hand is running a campaign full of half truths, which, as the old adage says, are the biggest lies of all.

    This fact was brought home to me most strikingly when I picked up the latest copy of QNews yesterday and perused its election coverage. On page 7, there's an election round-up featuring a large photo of the Borg and highlighting two quotes from his response to the QNews survey of political leaders' views on LGBTIQ issues. The first: "It was the current Labor government, in 2004, that regrettably ceased govenrment funding to QuAC (Qld AIDS Council)". The journalists writing the piece, Toby Longhurst and Miles Heffernan, even seem to think that QuAC was "set up by a Coalition Government." The other highlighted quote from the Borg refers to "our commitment to maintain existing funding levels for youth suicide programs." Then on pp 24 & 25, QNews has printed the responses to the survey of the two main candidates for my seat of Brisbane Central, Grace Grace, the sitting Labor member and Mark Wood, the LNP candidate. In his response, Wood outs himself as a gay man and goes on to claim credit for the "coalition" of both "first" funding QuAC "back in 1988" and to have "established the anti-discrimination commission in 1997."

    In the online version here, we also find the Borg's own response, together with commentary on his statements from the rights group, Action Reform Change Queensland (ARCQ), and the successor organisation to QuAC, Qld Association for Healthy Communities (QAHC). I should add that neither Anna Bligh nor the Greens (& ex-Labor) MP, Ronan Lee, had replied to the QNews survey by the time the issue went to press and it's not stated online if they have subsequently replied. However, on reading the Borg's statement it becomes clear that, apart from outing himself, Mark Wood has basically quoted from his leader.

    But these two claims about funding QuAC and establishing the anti-discrimination commission are perfect examples of the adage that the biggest lie is the half truth. I got so angry that I left a comment online which I will repeat below rather than re-write for this posting:

    I can't believe the disingenuous nature of both Springborg's and Mark Wood's construction of the history of National Party/LNP relations with the LGBT communities of Qld. Firstly both state that the Qld AIDS Council "first received funding in 1988" from a Coalition/LNP Gov't. THere was no Coaliton gov't in Qld in 1988 only the National Party formed government. The Qld AIDS Council was established in 1984 and from the outset the National Party refused to have anything to do with it. No money would be given to QuAC, and the National Party did all it could to impede the activities of QuAC. QuAC first got funding from the Federal Labor government under Bob Hawke. In 1987, Mike Aherne took on the health portfolio in the Qld gov't. He was able to start funding the AIDS Council through a co-operative arrangement with the Sisters of Mercy at the Mater. As far as Health was concerned it was funding AIDS projects run by the nuns - but in actual fact the nuns passed most of the money on to QuAC. When Mike Aherne became Premier end of 1987, he was able to bring to an end the old National party ban on funding QuAC. And for that and other issues he was dumped by his colleagues in 1989. When the National Party was last in office in 1996-98, they continued a policy of obstruction and censorship of AIDS Council acitivities and projects. The same people are still there in Springborg's front bench. Labor did not defund the Qld AIDS Council in 2004, however its client services budget was reallocated to Spiritus under the competitive tendering process. I was very critical of that at the time, but the the fact is that QuAC reconfigured itself as QAHC and continues to be funded under the Labor government.

    It was Labor who carried out law reform in 1990 and who introduced anti-discrimination laws in 1992. As ARCQ point out:

    "In 1996, the newly elected Howard Coalition Federal Government moved to strip funds from the Human Rights Commission and signalled that the arrangement with the joint Commonwealth/Queensland Commissions was to be terminated.

    Karen Walters, then working for the Queensland Justice Department, was tasked by the Borbidge Coalition Queensland Government with establishing the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Commission and was subsequently appointed as its first Commissioner in September 1997."

    Not many people know that the then Coalition government was looking at ways to remove the anti-discrimination provisions covering lawful sexual activity (together with trade union membership). It was only by intensive lobbying on the part of the Qld Association of Gay and Lesbian Rights (QAGLR) that these plans were circumvented.

    I am myself very critical of many aspects of Labor's record on LGBT issues. But at least Labor does have a positive record of addressing our issues. The Nationals/LNP have no such record; theirs instead is one of virulent homophobia at worst and obstruction and denial at best. The record that Mark Wood and Lawrence Springborg present is a falsehood based on half truths, misrepresentations and distortion of the historical record

    Michael Carden
    fmr Male Convenor (1996-1999)
    Qld Association of Gay and Lesbian Rights

    The deliberate climate of homophobic pogrom whipped up by the National Party in the 1980s in lieu of a genuine HIV/AIDS policy together with their refusal to not only deal with or fund QuAC are the reasons I hold the National Party responsible for every HIV infection in the '80s and early '90s. (Former Health Minister and Premier, Mike Aherne, is the notable exception. I count him as an AIDS hero in a party of AIDS criminals. He is the only National Party Health Minister of the time that didn't go to prison following the Fitzgerald Inquiry) That's one reason I will never vote for them even if they rename themselves the LNP. I know too that on coming to office in 1996, albeit this time as a Coalition, the Nats were seriously planning to nobble the anti-dsicrimination laws when it came to sexuality. Shayne Wilde and I intensively lobbied a number of bodies, in particular the Churches, to put pressure on the Coalition to make sure that didn't happen. I should also add that as far as the National Party record is concerned, on any legal change that was put through state Parliament, from decriminalisation to anti-discrimination laws to recognising same-sex couples in a suite of state government legislation it was consistently spoken and voted against by the National Party and, with a handful of honorable exceptions, the Liberal Party. I still remember watching the Borg in Parliament in 1999 denying any homophobic motivation for his opposing Labor's including same sex couple recognition for new family leave provisions in state industrial relations legislation. But by their fruits shall you know them.

    So if the statements of Mark Wood and the Borg are anything to go by, then I can only assume that the LNP continues to regard us queer folks with utter contempt and will tell the biggest lies, distorting and misrepresenting the historical record, in a cruelly cynical attempt to get our votes. I am very critical of Labor too but at least they have a record they can stand on proudly when it comes to us queer folks in Qld, unlike the National Party/LNP.

    But I also have some brickbats for the QNews journalists who wrote up the election piece. Not only did they accept uncritically the LNP distortions but they compounded the lies by writing that "the Qld AIDS Council... was set up by a Coalition Government." Utterly, utterly untrue!!! The Qld AIDS Council was set up by us queer folks together with a lot of straight allies. It was all our own work and work we must acknowledge and be proud of . The National Party, the Coalition, the LNP had nothing to do with it and actively worked to frustrate it. By uncritically accepting and further distorting the Borg's lies, QNews has let down its own constituency, the queer communities of Qld. As journalists, it's the responsibility of Toby Longhurst and Miles Heffernan to hold lying and homophobic politicians to account and expose their lies at every opportunity. Instead they have failed their profession, their readership and their communities.

    Velveteen Rabbi on Esther

    Amongst the many blogs listed on my blog roll is Velveteen Rabbi. I strongly recommend regular visits to her site. You will not be sorry. One post that particularly caught my eye is her recent post on the book of Esther, in particular chapter 9 in the Hebrew version, The End of Esther. It was Purim last week and the Esther Scroll is read for the Purim observances. Indeed Purim is a kind of Jewish Feast of Fools. The Babylonian Talmud even says that at Purim a person must get so drunk "...that we cannot tell the difference between cursing Haman and blessing Mordecai" (B.T. Megilla 7B). The book of Esther is written for Purim and in chapter 9 contains an account of how Purim was instituted as a feast for the Jewish people on the authority of both Mordecai and Esther (Esther 9.18-32). Greek Esther concludes with a postscript authentication the account and the authorisation for the celebration of Purim (Gk Esther 10.3k).

    The Book of Esther is about reversals, comedic reversals. Velveteen Rabbi cites Marc Zvi Brettler who calls it "more like comedy, burlesque, or farce." An appropriate text for a Feast of Fools. Chapter 9 recounts the ultimate reversal in which the Jews attack and kill their enemies following the undoing of Haman's plot against them. Haman himself was hanged on the gallows he had built for the had built for the execution of Mordecai The name of Purim is derived from the word for lots, the lots that Haman cast to determine the date for his planned massacre of the Jewish people.

    As Velveteen Rabbi observes, chapter 9 is about comedic reversal expressed through revenge. It's over the top, an essential quality of comedy, but it is a bloody comedy, which in our time must be handled with care. She reminds us it was on Purim 1994 that the Cave of the Patriarchs massacre took place at Hebron, carrried out by the Kach extremist and settler, Baruch Goldstein, in which approximately 50 Palestinians were killed and over 120 wounded. Goldstein had clearly broken the Talmudic injunction and had gotten drunk on hate rather than drunk on wine.

    What I found most interseting is what Velveteen Rabbi recounts of contemporary Jewish practice in dealing with chapter 9 in such a way that it does not become a licence for revenge. I was most struck by the practice adopted in some synagogues: "Others have taken to reading it in Eikha trope -- the sorrowing minor melodic mode we use for chanting Lamentations on Tisha b'Av, instead of the happier tune we use for chanting Esther on Purim."

    She goes on to note that some have even called for the passage to be excised from Esther. Her response is as follows:

    But when we studied this text at the end of the Biblical History class I took this past fall, my teacher Reb Leila Gal Berner argued that we can't excise these verses from our text -- nor should we. We have to grapple with the end of the book, and even if we breathe a sigh of relief when we say "this didn't really happen," we have to ask ourselves why this violent end to the story is in our text, and how we want to address the reality that it is there.

    I would agree. There is a tendency in many religious communities to want to excise texts that make us feel uncomfortable, to only use texts that 'feel good' and where they don't exist to compose them and add them to our canons. I have a problem with that sort of approach. It creates a kind of vanilla world in which we always feel good and are never confronted by the depths of life in all its messiness and, oftentimes, nastiness and brutality. We are not angels yet! Furthermore we do not know what horrors we might be encoding for future generations in what to us seems noble and uplifiting.

    Most importantly, Veleveteen Rabbi demonstrates the importance of the way a text is received and read by a community. No one reads alone but reads according to conventions of meaning taught to them by their community. Baruch Goldstien's community was a fascist and racist one hence he 'performed' Esther as racist massacre. Many rightwing evangelical Christians read texts like this in bloodthirsty and oppressive ways. Even worse they deny that they are reading to conventions shared and taught in their communities - homophobic, misogynistic, racist conventions, and in the US imbued with a US exceptionalism ideology that confuses Jesus with Superman as the one representing the "American Way."

    Those Jewish communities who read Esther 9 with tone of lamentation provide models for us all in reading texts that disturb, the bloodied texts, which are found in abundance in the biblical texts and other scriptures too.